Should the Cavaliers take Derrick Williams at No. 1?

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Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson are all very good basketball players. In fact, they’re All-Stars. But they’ve all been asked to be “the man” on their prospective teams, which hasn’t worked out too well, as they appear to lack that leadership gene.

And whether Derrick Williams deserves to be drafted No. 1 over point guard Kyrie Irving may depend on what kind of leadership skills he possesses.

Although point guards are all the rage in the NBA right now, the two teams in the Finals this season weren’t exactly stacked at the position.  As Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Chris Paul all watched on television, the Heat’s offense was “directed” by Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers, while Jason Kidd, who is at least 70 years old and averages less than 10 points per game, led the Mavericks’ offense to the title.  Meanwhile, both teams had dominant forwards in Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James.  Yes, James disappeared, but the Heat were there because of his play up until the Finals.  And if you add Kevin Durant to the discussion, forwards are arguably more important to championship teams than point guards.  Or at least they were this season.

Williams, a power forward, is obviously a gifted player, capable of power dunking from two feet at a standstill, or burying a 3-pointer.  In fact, his ability to play both under the rim and outside the 3-point line gives him the chance to be a true superstar in the NBA (and fantasy stud down the line). The Cavaliers, who hold the No. 1 pick, already have Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions on their roster, so finding a point guard in the draft is not a top priority.  And if it is, they could possibly get Brandon Knight at No. 4 if the Jazz pass on him at No. 3.  J.J. Hickson, Antawn Jamison and Samardo Samuels are the power forwards that would stand in Williams’ way in Cleveland, but Hickson can play center (along with Anderson Varejao), while Jamison’s career is starting to wind down.  I’m not sure the Cavs are even going to look at their roster before making their selection, as finding the guy with the right attitude and the leadership gene is going to be key, regardless of his position.

This reminds me a little bit of the 1998 NFL draft, when the Colts were desperately trying to figure out whether to draft Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.  And believe it or not, folks were pretty torn on which guy they should take.  Both players possessed similar skills in college, but were completely different animals in the pros when it came to mental and physical skills.  Obviously, the Colts made a great decision by taking Manning, who is one of the best leaders we’ve seen in professional sports.

Almost every mock draft you look at has the Cavaliers taking Irving over Williams, but I’m pretty sure that the Cavs have yet to make that decision.  And then there’s this Twitter tidbit from Brian Windhorst, who is a Cavaliers expert: “Heard enough stories about Cavs in-depth research into Derrick Williams to convince me they’re considering him for No. 1 pick.”  If Williams showed up for his Monday’s workout and said all the right things, he could easily be taken No. 1.  After all, it’s one thing to get a dynamic player, like the ones I listed at the start of this post, but a completely different game when looking at guys with heart, who know how to lead/win, versus guys who simply pile up numbers and are quiet in the locker room.

If Williams has a strong interview and leads the Cavaliers to believe that he can be a better leader both on and off the floor than Irving, I think they’ll pull the trigger.  And then the fun will begin, as the Timberwolves might be forced into taking Irving despite Ricky Rubio arriving in Minnesota on Monday.  There have been conflicting reports on whether the Cavs are set to draft Irving with the No. 1 pick on Thursday, but if they don’t, Williams will be the guy.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.